September 29, 2010
Cito Gaston is saying ta-ta to Toronto on Wednesday night as he's set to manage the Blue Jays in his final game at Rogers Centre.
Of course, the end of Gaston's second tenure with the team is attracting plenty of media attention in the city where he won back-to-back World Series titles. The manager himself wrote a farewell letter to fans in The Star on Wednesday, and John Allemang of The Globe and Mail wrote a nice piece placing Gaston in his proper place among Toronto sports legends.
Allemang's piece is a good read for many other reasons — go check it out — but one of the parts that stands out most is the even-keel Gaston getting his own brand of prickly when Tony La Russa's name is raised as a Hall of Fame benchmark for modern managers.
"How many World Series has La Russa won?" he asks with his calm, deep-voiced self-confidence. "He won two. How many have I won? I won two."
Gaston, it seems, does not like the way that activity in the dugout is equated to genius. The 66-year-old is famous for looking like he's flatlining on the bench, but says he learned that approach from Preston Gomez, who told him his team would panic if they saw him doing so.
"I think those guys are just a little busy. You can only play this game so many kinds of ways. [La Russa] stands at the top of the dugout, he walks and walks. But a lot of things I see from coaches and managers are just busy. And you know, I don't think he played in the big leagues. [La Russa, in fact, played for parts of six seasons, hitting .199 in 176 at-bats]. I'm not getting on him, but I think people who played at this level are a little calmer when they're coaching and managing than people who haven't played at this level."
It's easy to see why Gaston gets relatively riled up in this instance. If the name of the game is World Series titles, he has the same number as a guy who's mentioned as a lock for Cooperstown. But Gaston believes the only way he'll get an invite into the Hall is when he's "dead" and somebody will "wake up and realize that I was the first black manager ever to win the World Series."
The only problem with the World Series approach is that we don't solely evaluate players on the number of titles they've won. They're great bonus pieces, they help build one's legacy (Gaston's stature in Toronto is huge) and they can push a borderline Hall candidacy over the top.
However, Gaston should know that the bulk of the cases for Cooperstown are built between early April and late September with regular-season victories, division titles and consistency over a long period of time. The reason people respect La Russa isn't because he's a control freak, it's because his 2,633 wins, 12 division titles and five pennants over 32 seasons make us respect him in spite of those hard-to-digest egotistical quirks.
In comparison, Gaston has 890 wins over a 12-season career that didn't see him hold a managing job from 1997-2008. Our own Alex Remington is working on a piece on where Gaston falls in the historical hierarchy of managers, but it's safe to say that his short career handicaps the way we view him.
That's not to say that we don't view him as a classy man who knows how to run a clubhouse and as someone who can garner respect among his charges. It's just to say that he shouldn't feel slighted when a more tenured manager receives accolades, no matter his style or approach.